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Dal Research Chair – Printed Electronics: Just Around The Bend

Dalhousie’s Canada Research Chair in Organic Functional Materials, Greg Welch of the Department of Chemistry is focused on developing organic chemical materials that can be used to create lightweight, flexible components for electronic devices: imagine solar panels that could be unrolled like paper, or phone or television screens that would bend and change shape.

“As soon as you replace inorganic components with organic, you open this whole new world of solution processing which allows us to fabricate these devices onto lightweight, flexible substrates,” says Dr. Welch. “You can bend, stretch and manipulate them in all sorts of new ways.”

Dr. Welch, who came to Dal last year after completing his postdoctoral work at the University of California at Santa Barbara, is creating an advanced organic materials laboratory in the Department of Chemistry. There, his team will make next-generation organics that can effectively and efficiently absorb and emit light, or transport a charge, or complete other processes depending on what sort of device they’re designed for.

His work, by nature, requires partnerships with physicists and materials scientists to test and refocus these materials. And on that front, a lot of that collaboration will be done right here at Dal: Dr. Welch has already struck a strong working relationship with Professor Ian Hill of the Department of Physics and Atmospheric Science, whose lab studies precisely the sort of organic thin film transistors and solar cells that these materials are designed for.

“Dalhousie is a very unique university because it’s small, so the faculty can easily communicate,” he says. “It’s a very open, collaborative environment, so it allows for very rapid sharing of ideas, and everyone is here to work together. And there’s a genuine interest on the part of students in new technologies out here. I think Nova Scotia is a very progressive province: it’s built on going a little different, and alternative energy is big out here.”

As well, Dr. Welch says being able to do this work in Canada is important. (He says he’s “unashamedly patriotic,” in that way.) With the organic electronics market set to become a billion-dollar industry in the next decade, he says Canada lags behind other countries in the field, but he’s eager to help the country’s industry catch up to and surpass its international competition.

“We want to contribute to Canadian society,” he says. “We want to generate IP here.”